From the array of young talent that Team Sky signed in the off-season, Egan Bernal stood out as the jewel in the crown. The Colombian had an outstanding 2017 season with impressive rides at Tirreno-Adriatico, Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali and the Tour of the Alps, before a string of GC wins that culminated in victory in the Tour de l’Avenir in August.
By that time, Dave Brailsford had already waved his considerable check book in the direction of both Bernal and his then manager, Gianni Savio, but according to the rider, it was his mother who had the most significant say in where he ended up in 2018.
“We talked at the Giro and I talked with Dave. That was my first experience and my mom was with me,” Bernal told Cyclingnews on the eve of his debut with Team Sky at the Santos Tour Down Under.
“She talked with Dave too. It was in English but we had a translator and my mom was really happy. She helped me decide to go to Sky. They were really friendly with her and you don’t expect that from the management of a team like Sky. It was nice.”
The deal was announced soon after Bernal’s victory in the Tour de l’Avenir and Team Sky certainly has a talented rider on their hands. Bernal made his start in mountain biking before Savio snapped him up and dropped him into the deep end at his Androni-Sidermec team.
In truth, Bernal could have picked from a number of WorldTour team, but his agent has placed a number of riders at Team Sky in the past. Bernal admits that the team comprises of a number of his heroes but his primary target this year is to develop and not become too wrapped up in the pressure and level of expectations on him.
“I just want to learn a lot with this team. I think it’s a great team and we have a lot of good riders with experience. I need that experience because this is only my third year on the road. Before that, I was in mountain biking. It’s been really fast since then and now I just need a bit of calm,” he said.
“I remember seeing Wiggins win the Tour and I fell in love with this team. I think I can get experience here on the road, in how to rest, how to train and time trialling.”
Bernal’s programme for the first part of the season will see him head back to Colombia for two races after the Tour Down Under before a run-out in Europe that could culminate with a venture into the Ardennes. There are no plans for him to race the Giro d’Italia and certainly not the Tour de France, but the Vuelta a Espana has been pencilled in.
“I’d like a Grand Tour this year. I don’t think it will be the Giro and for sure it won’t be the Tour de France but I’d like to try the Vuelta. First I need to see how I’m going, but I think the Vuelta could be a good race for me. There are a lot of climbs and maybe I can arrive there already with some kilometres in my legs and a little more confidence with the team. The Vuelta is also a very famous race back home.”
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing Bernal will be the clamour for him to replicate his stunning U23 form at senior level.
“For me, it’s not a problem. I’m 21 and I don’t want to ride with pressure. I want to gain experience and confidence when it comes to riding in the peloton. I’m not thinking too much about the future or winning just yet.”
And as with any new professional rider, the biggest shift in the last few months has been in terms of the personnel around him.
“I like Chris Froome, I like Nairo Quintana but it’s crazy,” he said when asked about the riders he looks up to.
“Two years ago I was watching them on television and now at the Tour Down Under with Team Sky. At dinner, I look around and see Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel and it’s just crazy. I hope and I think that I’m ready for this level now. I think I’m improving and maturing and this year could be a bit better than last year.”
The programme starts now, however, and Bernal is an outsider for the Tour Down Under. Teammate and compatriot Sergio Henao has already been in touch with some advice about the race.
“I’ve seen Willunga and it’s a good climb. I want to try but it’s the first race and my first effort. I want to do a good race for sure. Sergio told me it’s a really fast climb and it’s really painful.”